Ross Howard is a difficult playwright to categorise. His plays are nothing if not eclectic, tackling themes from love and sanity in a psychiatric ward in Picture Ourselves in Latvia to death and life after death in Arthur and Esther, and the difficulties of being in love with a panda in his collection of short plays Our Walk Through the World.
The best way to understand any author is by talking to the people who have worked and lived with their plays – so we asked collaborators on past productions for their take on what makes these pieces so special.
Sarah Norris, Director
“I remember the first few performances of Picture Ourselves in Latvia . We had packed houses, it was August, and the temperature was boiling. The evenings in downtown Manhattan were so noisy, you could hear the cars and ambulances speeding by, one person shouting at another from the street. And yet, the audience was completely engaged with the story. That’s how we knew we had a special script on our hands. And the remarkable thing about the show was the silence– the silence of the characters.
When the characters in Latvia speak, their words are hints of their true selves wrapped in blankets of arrogance, vanity, egotism… But regardless of the heat and noise, it was in the silence of the characters where we found the truth of their loneliness, longing for love, that was undeniably present and painful.”
Timothy Trimingham Lee, Director
“These short plays link like a chain of firecrackers illuminating the audience with flashes of humour, explosions of pathos, and ringing aftermaths of shock and surprise. Our Walk through the World presented a unique challenge for me as a director. Happily, for this particular production, I had a remarkably talented cast and design team who provided extraordinary contributions in constructing an aesthetic that brought continuity and cohesion to the evening. The work is a voyage of sorts, and within the intimate polygonal confines of the Old Red Lion Theatre, we needed to evoke a global journey.
Ross is an impeccable craftsman. His dramaturgical engines are built to last and rendered with meticulous care. Similarly, he had sequenced the plays with the same consideration of theme and progression that my favourite musicians lavish on the ordering of songs on their albums. Martin Thomas, a constant collaborator of mine, devised a brilliant design solution. Massive rusty sheets of chicken wire hung from the ceiling, which could variously evoke the oppressive sterility of an office, a fence at a football stadium, or a cage penning an animal.
I always search for connecting signifiers and concrete motifs to provide a conceptual compass for the audience’s experience. Ross is expert in planting these seeds for action and interpretation in patterns that ensure maximum yield in the process of farming that is rehearsing. That the night begins with a lonely woman alone beseeching imagined clients represented by a recording device for employment and ends with a woman gazing with shocked sadness at the end of a species, her phone lifeless in her hand, is testament to this playwright’s deep understanding of the human condition. Like Beckett, Ross knows that life moves forwards as often as it moves backwards and that we often get to the end to only begin again.”
Abbie Lucas, Director
“After our first performance it was interesting to hear that many audience members had said to our cast – “at first I thought you were a horrible person, but then I understood you” – and I think this demonstrates just how well-constructed Ross’s beautifully flawed characters are, and just how we can all truly empathise with them. From the outset Arthur and Esther gives its viewers permission to laugh along with these two people while they reflect on their past mishaps and mistakes, but as the evening progresses and the characters unravel, the laughter falls away into silence and eyes begin to glisten over.
What is so powerful is that almost all of that laughter and sadness comes out of recognition, of course there are some cleverly written comic moments, but you can just hear it in the response that the audience know what the characters are feeling, of course they do, who hasn’t experienced love and loss or regret or questioned what their life could or should be?”
Michael Aguirre, Executive Producer
“Part comedy, part noir, part revenge fantasy… I used to love speaking to our audience at intermission. They would be filled with so many thoughts and emotions and could not wait to see how the show resolved itself. No One Loves Us Here is my favorite Ross Howard piece because it keeps you guessing. Even in the end, when it reveals its hand, you’re not sure whether to laugh or cry. It’s morally challenging, and wildly funny.”